The John 3:16 Conference- Richard Land on Unconditional Election

November 9, 2008

The second letter of TULIP, Unconditional Election, was argued against by Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Liberty Commission branch of the SBC. He introduced his talk as not only being an argument against Unconditional Election but actually one for a view which he refers to as Congruent election. He started the talk with kind words towards the Calvinist view, stating that he does not see it as injurious to God in any way, only that he believes it is not the biblical viewpoint. He also gave mention that he believes there is a place for both the Separatist and New Hampshire traditions in SBC life (as the melody) and the Reformed Charleston tradition (as the harmony).

Getting into his argument, Land stated that he “believe[s] election is consistent with the free agency of man.” He notes that the failure on the Calvinists part to get it right on election is due to the fact that they have an incorrect view of the dispensations; namely that the standard Calvinist view that God has only one covenant people, believing Jews of the Old Testament together with the New Testament Church, should be replaced by viewing the Old Testament and the New Testament as two separate dispensations. From this Land argues that there are two types of election presented in the Bible: Abrahamic election, which is God’s dealing with Israel, and Salvific election, which is concerned with the salvation of individuals.

Land then presented some differences in these types of election. He stated that Abrahamic election was corporate, whereas Salvific election is individual (citing Romans 9.1-23 for proof). Also, Abrahamic election was covenantal, whereas Salvific election is free or general. Finally, he said that Abrahamic election is unconditional, but the picture of Salvific election has it having to do somehow with foreknowledge. His main point with all of this was that Abrahamic election is never said to be based upon foreknowledge, but Salvific election is (at least in two places, Romans 8.29 and 1 Peter 1.1-2).

At this point Land went into an explication of his view of congruent election, which has as it basis CS Lewis’ conception of the Eternal Now, a state in which God sees the whole scope of time as his present experience (and as Dr. Land later expounded upon for me, is where God sees all time from before we were created through where we are in heaven praising him at a single glance). He also stated that his view differs from Geisler’s view because in Geisler’s framework man provides saving faith, whereas in his God provides the saving faith. Apart from this, his view appears to differ very little from Geisler’s.

To close, Dr. Land shows some charts depicting the order of election and salvation for the believer and the non-believer. The major point which he wants to express with this, where his view separates from the Calvinist view of Unconditional Election, is that whereas Unconditional Election says that God elects and the elect must be saved, Congruent election says that God elects and the elect will be saved (particularly emphasizing the difference between ‘must’ and ‘will’). He also states that God deals differently with the non-elect than the elect and that he has always experienced their rejection.

Analyzing Dr. Land’s presentation, my first big disagreement has to come at the point of saying that the OT believers and the NT believers are not a part of the same once-for-all spiritual Israel. Romans 9.6-7 say that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring,” setting the stage that Israel may be spoken of in terms of two types: those who are truly in the covenant and those who are not. Thus, we get the distinction of spiritual (covenant) Israel and ethnic (descended) Israel. Yes, there are ways in which being a part of ethnic Israel inclines you towards the blessings of spiritual Israel, but this is not at all dissimilar from the way children of Christians are influenced by the church (and which is why Presbyterians unfortunately swung towards paedobaptism).

Then, if we look to Ephesians 2.11-21, we see that spiritual Israel, through Christ, has now been opened up to include those “who were once far off” (v.13). This passage states that Christ “create[d] in himself one new man in place of the two . . . and . . . reconcile[d] us both to God in one body through the cross” so that now “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v.18). Finally, the passage seals the deal by saying:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (vv.19-21)

To me, this shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that God does not desire and did not work to have two separate peoples called in two separate ways, but that he moved to have one unified body reconciled through the death of his son on the cross.

Second, the distinguishing between Abrahamic election and Salvific election seems a step too far for me, aside from the previous point, simply because the argument that foreknowledge is never applied to Abrahamic election and that Abrahamic election is convenantal but Salvific election is individual appear to be inconsistent with Scripture. The terms of foreknowledge, or having an intimate prior affection for, are applied both to what would be termed Salvific election (Romans 8.29) and to what would be Abrahamic election (Romans 11.2). This intimate knowledge parallels the affections which God displays in OT times in passages such as Genesis 18.19, Jeremiah 1.5, and Amos 3.2. And I agree with the idea that the so called Abrahamic election was covenantal, but so is the supposed Salvific election. Notice how in Romans 11.11-24 the salvation of the Gentiles is pictured as a grafting in of branches to an olive tree which was already established, namely the one (and only) covenant. Also, 1 Peter 2.9-10 refers to the Church, not OT ethnic Israel, as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God's] own possession,” stating that “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” This passage abounds with speak of NT believers not as individuals who have been saved, but as a covenant peoples who God has collectively set apart.

Lastly, in tackling his picture of election, though he appeals to a sort of prevenient grace, as opposed to Geisler’s more Arminian approach to saving faith, I believe that this line of reasoning falls under the same attack as Geisler’s view which I recently expressed in this post.

In conclusion, I appreciated Dr. Land’s thorough and humble presentation, but feel that the direction he chose to take it provides no real opposition or alternative to the traditional Calvinist view of Unconditional Election.